Peggy Angus Part two.

Peggy Angus, portrait by Percy Horton 1930.

From 1930 to 1946, Peggy taught art at secondary schools in Sussex and London – Eastbourne High School as an art teacher for 2 years before moving on to the Henrietta Barnett School, Hampstead.

Peggy travelled to Russia in 1932 for an art teachers’ study visit and later urged her students to travel to the Soviet Union. This earned her the nickname “Red Angus.” Following her visit to Russia she became one of the founding members of the Artists’ International Association, an organisation born out of social and political conflicts of the 1930s.

Alfriston Paintings: 1 The Stuffed Duck, Mrs Cooper’s Parlour, watercolour 1931. 2 Mrs Cooper, A Farm Labourer’s Wife, oil 1933. 3 Mr Fidgett (the rat catcher), oil 1932.

Whilst teaching in Eastbourne Peggy found lodgings in a cowman’s cottage at Tile Barn, near Alfriston. Peggy was quite taken with her room at Tile Barn but had to leave when she moved to the Henrietta Barnett School. She had become so attached to the South Downs that she resolved to find an old, run-down cottage where she could spend weekends and holidays. True to her Girl Guide training (Peggy was a girl guide until 1924 aged 20) Peggy would pack her rucksack and hike over the Downs searching for her ideal cottage. In the summer of 1933 Peggy came across a cottage covered in ivy, it was actually two cottages in one, Barnes, a ploughman living at one end and the other end empty. Peggy asked the tenant farmer Dick Freeman, who rented the cottage from the Glynde Estate, if she could sub-let the empty end. He refused so Peggy set up camp and her outdoor art studio until he relented, and the cottage, Furlongs, was hers.

Furlongs, photo taken 24th May 2021. Cart Track to Furlongs by Peggy Angus. No date.

In the autumn of 1933 Peggy visited Zwemmer’s Gallery in London to view works by Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden. Visiting on the last day of the exhibition Peggy longed to buy a painting but by then they had all been sold. So, Peggy wrote to former RCA fellow student Bawden offering to buy a watercolour painting if he would accept an arrangement of paying by instalments of £1 at a time.  Bawden replied inviting Peggy to visit Brick House for a weekend so she could choose a watercolour.

Peggy’s painting purchased from Edward Bawden. Ferryboat Entering Newhaven Harbour, 1935.

Peggy duly arrived at Brick House in early January 1934 bowled over by the decorations on the wall, the ceiling and floor. Peggy was pleased to see Eric again having only bumped into him once on Westminster Bridge since leaving the Royal College of Art.  She was also able to meet Tirzah, Charlotte Bawden had been a fellow student at RCA.

Brick House, Great Bardfield. Photo taken 27th May 2021.

On what was a mild weekend another visitor to Brick House was young artist Diana Low invited for a six day stay by her former teacher Charlotte along with another Cheltenham School colleague Gwyneth Lloyd Thomas, an English don at Girton College, Cambridge.

The Saturday afternoon was warm for mid-winter but misty. Enjoying a group walk an exuberant Peggy tore her clothes off and plunged into the cold waters of the River Pant, Eric and Diana followed suit while Tirzah stayed on the bank.

At the end of the weekend visit Peggy invited the whole household to visit her at Furlongs. Furlongs became the gathering-place of many artists – Eric Ravilious and his wife Tirzah, Edward and Charlotte Bawden, Percy Horton, Maurice de Saumarez, John and Myfanwy Piper, Olive Cook and Edwin Smith, as well as countless former pupils, colleagues and their children and grandchildren.

Peggy Angus: The Fever Wagons, oil, no date. The wagons used as a home and studio at Furlongs by Eric and Tirzah.

Ravilious was a regular visitor and considered that his time at Furlongs: ‘…altered my whole outlook and way of painting, I think because the colour of the landscape was so lovely and the design so beautifully obvious … that I simply had to abandon my tinted drawings.’

Ravilious made many drawings and paintings of the Downs around Furlongs and of the cottage inside and out. He and Peggy both made paintings together at the quarry and cement works at Asham nearby. Other visitors included Herbert Read, Olive Cook and Edwin Smith and architects Moholy-Nagy, Serge Chermayeff, Ernő Goldfinger, Frederick Gibberd, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew.

Paintings of Asham Cement Works by Peggy Angus 1934.

Peggy had maintained contact with Percy Horton since leaving RCA and he was amongst the first visitors to Furlongs. Horton and Peggy shared a love of music as well as sharing their socialist political leanings. The sound of Percy’s violin could often be heard coming from the cottage. Songs too resounded – Peggy’s Scottish ballads and folk songs and Percy’s Elizabethan rounds particularly enjoyed by Tirzah Garwood (Ravilious).

Peggy’s Harmonium

Teaching in London Peggy shared a flat in Camden with fellow RCA graduate Helen Binyon. In 1935 Helen visited Furlongs meeting Eric Ravilious. That year Helen and Ravilious became lovers meeting regularly at Furlongs, a relationship that lasted more than two years during which time Tirzah became pregnant, gave birth to John, and, also discovered the affair.

Peggy Angus: Oil painting of Eric Ravilious and Helen Binyon at Furlongs, c 1945. A posthumous portrait of Eric killed in action 1942.

So that Peggy could afford to travel from London to Furlongs at weekends she got a Saturday morning teaching job at a boys’ preparatory school in nearby Seaford.

In the summer of 1934 an RCA friend Betty Rea introduced Peggy to an Anglo-Irish architect and write Jim Richards. Richards had a family connection to Tirzah as his aunt had been engaged to Tirzah’s uncle and, on his death in WW1 the aunt had been adopted by the Garwoods as a sort of surrogate aunt.

Peggy invited him to visit Furlongs, an arrangement also encouraged by Tirzah.  When he eventually turned up Peggy and Eric were away painting so he was taken care of by Sheila, Ishbel MacDonald’s sister. Further visits took place and on the 31st July 1936 Peggy and Jim married.  Richards became editor of the Architectural Review and introduced her to many modernist architects. Artist friend John Piper gave the couple a wedding present of a rug made to his own abstract design.  Peggy painted a portrait of Piper in 1937 reclining in a chair in front of his painting ‘Forms on Dark Blue’.

Peggy Angus: Portrait of John Piper (in front of his painting Forms on Dark Blue), pencil, crayon and wash, 1937. The Three Bears, watercolour 1945. Angus and Victoria at Breakfast in Furlongs, 1945.

Peggy, still teaching in London had to battle for her position as back in those days it was expected that women give up teaching when they married.  Peggy resisted and the school accepted this, but a further battle ensued when Peggy became pregnant.  London County Council had recently ruled that a woman was entitled to one term’s maternity leave and Peggy fought the school for her rights to this entitlement. However, the battle caused so much ill feeling at the school following the birth of daughter Victoria that Peggy resigned.

Shortly afterwards in 1939 Peggy was pregnant again, Eric was there to help while Tirzah was in Eastbourne herself pregnant with James. In the dead of a summer’s night Peggy felt the baby coming and dispatched Eric to bring Mrs Spikes, a mother of five camping in the nearby field. Eric then had to go to the phone box in Glynde to call the local doctor who knowing the cottage well refused to come.  The doctor advised Eric to take Peggy to a nursing home in Lewes but Eric couldn’t drive and there was no car.  Eric aroused Mr Lusted of the Trevor Arms, Glynde, and he agreed under protest to transport them both to the hospital in Eastbourne where Angus was born.

With Britain at war Peggy was appointed art teacher at Streatham School for Girls and was allowed to structure her teaching time around Angus’ feeds.  The school was soon evacuated to Chichester and Peggy and the children went there too. Jim was working in Adelaide Road, London where he set up the office of The Architectural Review. 

For the first wo years of the War Furlongs was out of bounds as part of a militarized coastal zone. Peggy was able to return for a brief visit in 1941 and in 1942 invited Eric to come and stay at Furlongs, a visit that never took place as Eric was lost in a plane over Iceland in September 1942. The loss of such a good, close friend sent Peggy into a depression that lasted on and off for several years.

Peggy Angus: Barrage Balloon, crayon and pencil, early 1943.

Tirzah struggled on at Ironbridge until March 1944, when she and the children moved to Boydells Farm, Wetherfield.  The rented house was less primitive than Ironbridge having gas lighting, but water still had to be boiled in a copper. At Boydells encouraged by Peggy, Tirzah entered a competition to illustrate a book for young children. Her works were not amongst the winning entries but triggered illustrations for a counting book, ‘One, Two, Three’.

Peggy Angus: Portrait of Jim Richards, oil, 1947.

Unfortunately, with infrequent meetings at weekends less and less Peggy’s marriage was in trouble and Jim asked Peggy for a divorce, concluded in 1948. In 1954, he married Kit Lewis, also an artist; the couple had one son. Jim became Sir James Maude Richards, a leading spokesman and theorist of the Modern Movement in architecture in Britain, he died in 1992.

Part three will take us on to Adelaide Road, London.

Graham Bennison June 2021.

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